Appealing Off the Layers

A few months ago, I wrote an article about what to do when you get appealed. Now, I’m flipping the story. I’d like to talk about appeals from the perspective of the judge receiving the appeal — the Head Judge or Appeals Judge. But before discussing how a Head Judge handles appeals, I’d like to pose a more fundamental question: why do we have appeals?

Interestingly, our policy documents don’t really have anything to say on the matter. The Magic Tournament Rules have a couple paragraphs on the mechanics of appeals and having multiple Appeals Judges, but not why the appeals system exists. So while the following thoughts capture my own thoughts on the purpose of appeals, I am certain there are other valid approaches, or viewpoints that assign different priorities to the various considerations Head Judges have to juggle. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

In my mind, the primary reason appeals exist is to safeguard the correctness and consistency of our rulings. The Head Judge is the “final judicial authority” for a given tournament — which is a very big responsibility! Yet, for any tournament of appreciable size, it isn’t feasible for a single person to handle every judge call. This is one of the reasons why floor judges exist. Floor judges, themselves, have immense authority — but their authority is derived from the Head Judge. Allowing players to appeal to the Head Judge ensures that every player has the same level of access to the Head Judge, and equal opportunity to receive the most accurate ruling.

One consequence of this viewpoint is that appeals are not a second opinion — even though they are often treated as such by players. By saying this, I don’t mean that the Head Judge should be biased to uphold their floor judges’ rulings by default — far from it, in fact!

Rather, what I mean is that, in an ideal world, any two judges should make the same ruling when presented with the same situation. In practice, judges are merely human and we all screw up at times. The appeals system is a safeguard against these mistakes. Allowing players to appeal is a way to ensure that all the angles are considered when a ruling is made.

Phrased differently, players have the right to a ruling made by the Head Judge — but they do not have the right to have two judges handle their ruling. The Head Judge is perfectly empowered to respond to judge calls normally, not just on appeal. And if a Head Judge does so, it is also correct for the Head Judge to (politely) refuse a request for an appeal. The players have already heard from the highest authority available, and that’s the end of it.

In practice, this philosophy starts to butt up against the other fundamental reason appeals exist: to make players happy! Yes, players often appeal because they believe they received an incorrect ruling. However, some (many?) players appeal simply because they want to be heard. When faced with an uncomfortable situation, like a “bad” ruling or a judge call that “goes against” you, denial is a very human reaction. In these situations, the Head Judge must straddle the line between being a judicial authority, dispensing the correct ruling with an impartial perspective, and a friendly ear, ensuring that both players leave the interaction satisfied.

How do we actually accomplish these seemingly orthogonal goals when taking an appeal? This question is the pivot between the why and the how of appeals. Now that we understand why appeals matter, we are better equipped to actually undertake this important aspect of Head Judging.

As it happens, I have quite a few thoughts on how to handle appeals, and how we can effectively balance our responsibilities as customer service professionals with our obligation to deliver impartial rulings. However, this article is already relatively complex, and I like that it’s a bite-sized discussion on the purpose of the appeals system. So, rather than jam too many topics into a single post, I’m going to table this continued discussion for later.

I hope this post has challenged you to think about some aspects of the appeals system that you haven’t previously considered, or at least given you a new perspective on appeals and why they matter. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Until next time, may you always wield your authority wisely.